Labor Contractor Fresh Harvest Deep in Vegetable Harvests

Fresh Harvest Relies on H-2A

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Steve Scaroni, along with his wife Brenda, owns Fresh Harvest, a premier labor provider, staffing and harvesting company for the agricultural industry in the western United States.

Steve Scaroni, with Fresh Harvest.

“Expansion for Fresh Harvest is coming, but the main emphasis is crops related to salads. They even expanded into citrus last year,” Scaroni said.

Fresh Harvest has also expanded into pears. Vegetables are the heart and soul of Fresh Harvest.

“Anything that goes into a salad, a lot of lettuce, romaine, broccoli; we touch a lot of salads every day,” he said.

The H-2A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers who expect a shortage in domestic workers to bring non-migrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural services for a temporary or seasonal nature.

“If it wasn’t for H-2A, I wouldn’t be in business,” Scaroni said.

Scaroni explained that the H-2A gets legal workers to serve his customers demands for the services he offers. A majority of the demands are labor and harvesting, along with other farm services.

“We’re bringing up 100 irrigators this year to put throughout the Salinas Valley because our Salinas customers can’t get enough irrigators,” he said.

Laborers that show great work ethic will be able to work for a longer period of time. A worker could technically stay if moved from contract to contract.

“If the timing works, he gets up to three years, but then he has to go back for 90 days,” Scaroni said.

Heat Illness Prevention for Field Workers

Farmers Guard Their Most Valuable Asset

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

When temperatures are heating up, it’s important that growers are keeping farm employees safe to prevent exhaustion and heat-related illnesses and to ensure that their employees go home to their families at the end of the day.

On an average day, temperatures in fields can range from eight to 10 degrees hotter than the average temperature in the area.

“We try always to have a regular tailgate meeting to remind all of our farm employees about the hazards of working when temperatures are more than 80 degrees,” said Ron Samuelson, a Fresno County grower who produces almonds and cherries. “We educate our employees about the importance of drinking water, the emergency procedures if needed. And for increased prevention, we are in constant contact with the workers throughout the day.”

heat illness
Some type of shade must be available to field employees when temperatures reach 80 degrees.

Samuelson said that shade is essential once temperatures reach around 80 degrees and they make sure there is adequate shade in the morning if temperatures are going to get to that high.

“If field employees are in an almond orchard where there are mature trees, there is adequate \shade for them to sit and rest under a tree to cool down,” Samuelson explained. “And when the temperature begins to reach 100 degrees, it’s not uncommon for work to stop to give employees a break from the heat.”

“If temperatures go over 95 degrees, we employ other procedures. The first thing we would do is to talk to the guys to get their input as to what’s their thoughts on how soon they want to stop working for the day.”

“A lot of times, we’ll start a little bit earlier and knock off earlier. Then we take breaks more often as well. We try to maintain that, encourage them to drink at least a quart per hour throughout the day. We make sure they let us know if the water jugs are down to a gallon are less. That way we can get them refilled right away.”

Employee safety is paramount because it would be impossible for farmers to farm without them.

“So it’s essential to help them get through the day and avoid heat stress. At the end of the day, our employees matter most,” Samuelson said.

H2-A is Only Legal Solution For Labor Without Immigration Reform

H2-A is Heart of One Farm Labor Contractor

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

H2-A employees are the heart of one major farm labor company. Steve Scaroni owns Fresh Harvest, a premier labor provider and staffing and harvesting company to the agricultural industry and the western United States. But the company’s main emphasis has always harvested crops related to salads; they have also expanded into permanent crops.

“Last year, we started citrus and pears, and we will continue to expand in vegetables with anything that goes into a salad, lots of head lettuce, romaine, and broccoli, which is what we have been doing for a long time,” Scaroni said.

And then we touch a lot of salads every day. The H2-A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers when anticipating a shortage in domestic workers to bring non-migrant foreign workers to the US to perform agricultural services for a temporary or seasonal nature.

Steve Scaroni

“If it wasn’t for H2-A, I wouldn’t be in business. I mean that’s the only way to get a legal worker into California to serve my customers demands for the services we offer, which is mostly labor and harvesting,” Scaroni said.

“And we’re even starting to do a lot of farm services. We’re bringing up 100 irrigators this year to put throughout the Salinas Valley because our Salinas customers can’t get enough irrigators,” he said.

Being a labor contractor has its difficulties. It takes a lot of work. It’s a very bureaucratic process-driven application process.

“Laborers that show great work ethic will be able to work for a longer period of time. A worker could technically stay if I can move it from contract to contract, and I can keep the temporary employee for three years,” Scaroni said. “But then he has to go back for 90 days, but it’s very hard to time the contracts for that to work.”

“So most guys, they’ll do five, six, seven months. They’ll go home before they can come back. And then the guys that are really good workers with and a great attitude and really get it done for us. We’ll move to another contract. Will even retrain them in a different crop if they have the right attitude and work ethic,” he said.

Safeguarding CA Farm Workers Rights – Part 2

Updates on California Farm Workers’ Rights 

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Our ongoing coverage of developments among United Farm Workers (UFW), Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Gerawan Farming, Inc. and California farm workers chronicles the continuing, increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting California farm workers’ rights.

UFW Underpaid Employees – UPDATE

As previously reported, on March 26, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled that the UFW underpaid their own employees and mandated the UFW to pay a $1.2 million award that covers former employees, organizers, and other members of the class action suit, as well as penalties for California Labor Code Violations.

On April 27, Judge Wills added $772,000 to UFW’s court expenses for attorney fees incurred by Noland, Hamerly, Etienne & Hoss (NHEH), the law firm that represented former UFW employee Francisco Cerritos in the class action and Private Attorney General Act lawsuit on behalf of himself and other current and former UFW employees.

In issuing the additional costs to the UFW, according to a May 3 NHEH press release, Judge Wills stated that, “The Court has not placed an amount to destroy someone, and the union does serve a socially laudable purpose, but (the union) has to follow the law; and when it doesn’t do so at the expense of others and that results in drawn out, protracted and complex litigation, it cannot expect the Court to turn a blind eye to what the consequences of what that conduct are.”

Gerawan Violated Labor Law by Negotiating “in bad faith”— UPDATE

As previously published, ALRB Administrative Law Judge William L. Schmidt issued a decision on April 14 in favor of the UFW, finding Gerawan violated labor law by negotiating a collective-bargaining agreement with UFW “in bad faith—commonly called “surface bargaining”—in the eight-month period from January 2013 through August 2013.

In an April 17 news release, Gerawan Farming called the April 14 decision of the Administrative Law Judge “erroneous” in that Gerawan did bargain in good faith. Further, Gerawan maintains that imposed mandatory mediation and conciliation does not constitute volitional negotiations. Gerawan will appeal this decision. The following are excerpts from this press release:

This unprecedented ruling would punish an employer for failing to “negotiate” the terms of a “contract” dictated and imposed by the ALRB. This is an in-house judge who is not independent; he is an employee of the ALRB. He criticizes Gerawan’s positions and second-guesses how it participated in what was supposed to be a confidential mediation and trial-like arbitration, but he never asked the only relevant question: How does this forced contracting process resemble a “negotiation”?

The so-called “mandatory mediation and conciliation” procedures (MMC) are neither consensual nor voluntary. It is forced contracting. The ALRB tells the employer what wages to pay, what employees to hire or fire or promote, and what portion of the employees’ salary will be turned over to the union. The employer may not opt out, and the employees are not given the choice to ratify or reject the so-called contract that will be forced on them, even if there are provisions detrimental to them.

Gerawan had no choice but to submit to this coercive process.

…The UFW did not bargain; it asked the ALRB to impose terms, based on a forced contracting process the California Court of Appeal has since ruled to be unconstitutional (and is now under review before the California Supreme Court).

To date, UFW’s unexplained 17-year disappearance from the Gerawan farm workers remains unexplained. During its absence, the UFW never negotiated a single wage increase for any Gerawan employee, nor did it attempt to bargain for a contract, collect dues, or file a single grievance on behalf of the employees. Meanwhile, Gerawan claims its workers are among the highest paid in the industry.

Yet, the ALRB’s controversial 2002 MMC provision appears to allow this AWOL union to force current Gerawan farm workers to choose between paying union dues or losing their jobs. The majority of Gerawan employees twice asked ALRB for an election to decertify the UFW. At the ALRB’s request, the Fresno Superior Court intervened and supervised the decertification petition and election process. This was the first time in the history of the ALRB that a court oversaw an ALRB election.

As yet, ballots cast by Gerawan farm workers in the sanctioned November 2013 election to decertify the UFW have never been counted, are being stored in an undisclosed and possibly an insecure location, and are the target of legal attempts by the ALRB and UFW to be destroyed.

The Court of Appeal is preparing to decide whether the ALRB may deny employees the right to choose who will represent them at the bargaining table—a seemingly basic American democratic right. The California Supreme Court is preparing to decide whether the UFW’s longstanding abandonment of Gerawan’s employees justifies this forced contracting process. California farm workers deserve a full and fair hearing on these issues.


Who Safeguards California Farm Workers’ Rights? Part 3 – Bargaining in Bad Faith


Resources:

Gerawan February 27, 2017 press release, Gerawan Farming Asks Court to Order Disclosure of Information Related to ALRB ‘Whistleblower’ Allegations: A 30-year ALRB Employee Alleges Corruption Inside ALRB.”